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College Weekend Recap: 3/5-3/7

by Will Kimmey
March 7, 2005

AROUND THE NATION

• There was an erratic righthanded flame-thrower in Durham this weekend, and it wasn't Nuke LaLoosh. Jason Neighborgall continued to resurrect his college career with a dominant, albeit sometimes erratic start against Duke. The Durham native struck out 12 and walked five in allowing two earned runs over five innings Friday, mixing in moments of brilliance with his notorious control problems. No better example than the fourth inning when after loading the bases with a single and two walks, Neighborgall struck out Duke's Adam Murray on three pitches to end the threat. In his final inning, Neighborgall allowed a run and had two runners on before fanning Brett Smith on a 94 mph fastball to end the frame, and his afternoon on his 114th pitch.

Neighborgall was clocked as high as 96 mph while displaying good command of his curveball, particularly out of the stretch, when he was most effective.

"I think sometimes your mind seems to wander a little (with the bases empty); I've got to do a better job about that," Neighborgall told BA's Matt Meyers. "(With runners) on base, I am more in tune with the game I guess; I don't think that should happen but that is just the way I am. I just seem to get a lot of batters out with guys on base."

• McNeese State must have felt a little burned last year when lefthander Wade LeBlanc won Freshman of the Year honors at Alabama after originally signing with the Cowboys. (He followed Todd Butler, who recruited him to McNeese State before taking an assistant job at Alabama.) He probably didn't quell any discontent over the weekend in punching out a career-high 17 batters in a 4-0 win against McNeese State. LeBlanc allowed one hit over 7 2/3 innings but fell one strikeout shy of the school's single-game record. He threw 122 pitches.

"This game was fun," said LeBlanc, who struck out 13 Duquesne batters last week. "I had a blast. I felt good out there, it’s just a matter of getting more innings under my belt, I missed a start a week ago that set me back, but I think that I am slowly getting back to where I was last year."

• Maryland junior outfielder Justin Maxwell has sustained another injury, breaking a bone in his left hand with a bad swing during batting practice over the weekend. A preseason All-America selection in 2004 and 2005, Maxwell broke a bone in his right arm prior to the 2004 season and never played a game. A broken bone in his left arm cut short his summer in the Cape Cod League. Maxwell, who was batting .455/.581/.955 with three home runs and five steals in seven games, will see a hand specialist this week. There is no schedule for his return.

• Arizona State junior outfielder Travis Buck went 5-for-14 in his team's 3-0 run at the Keith LeClair Classic. He's batting .464 over his last six games with nine runs, three doubles and eight RBIs after starting the season with a .246 mark. "The first 15 games, I was putting way too much pressure on myself," Buck said. "Finally, last week, something clicked, and I'm just playing my regular type of game right now."

• Central Florida sophomore righthander Tim Bascom struck out 17 Siena batters in a complete-game effort Saturday, falling one K shy of the school record. He's 3-1, 2.55 overall and leads the Golden Knights with 42 strikeouts in 35 innings.

• Pepperdine junior lefthander Paul Coleman struck out a school-record 16 New Orleans batters Saturday in a two-hit shutout. He retired the final 12 batters of the 9-0 win a week after becoming the only pitcher to beat No. 1 Tulane this year by allowing two runs on three hits in 7 1/3 innings.

• Louisiana Tech filed an official protest Monday following a what it deemed an incorrect player ejection in a 5-4 loss to Oklahoma State over the weekend. Louisiana Tech shortstop Gary Holik was ejected from the game in the seventh inning for violating the offensive time out rule (when a batter and coach converse prior to or during an at-bat). NCAA rules call for no more than three timeouts and allow for ejection of the player involved in the fourth timeout, granted that a warning was issued. There was no warning for Louisiana Tech, and Holik was initially ruled out on the play. The ruling was reversed after consulting a rulebook, but Tech coach Wayne Simoneaux was ejected for arguing the call before it was reversed.

• San Diego junior lefthander Justin Blaine extended his scoreless innings streak to 14 with 7 2/3 shutout innings Saturday against St. Mary's. Blaine improved to 4-1, 2.08 in a West Coast Conference-leading 53 innings.

• Long Beach State is back on the rise after taking a weekend series at Baylor. It's no surprise pitching leads the way. Junior lefthander Cesar Ramos allowed two unearned runs over seven innings Friday for a win. He has yielded only one earned run over his last three starts, covering 21 innings, to improve to 3-2, 1.89.

The law firm of Anderson and Jamison sued for an injunction against opposing offenses in the final two innings of Dirtbags games. Setup man Brian Anderson has yet to allow a run in 12 appearances this season, while closer Neil Jamison is 2-0 with five saves in nine scoreless appearances. The two senior righthanders worked seven innings and notched three saves last week as Long Beach State went 3-1 to improve to 11-7 overall.

• Cal State Northridge junior outfielder Michael Paulk has a hit in all 11 Matadors games this season and 25 in a row stretching to 2004, tying a school record.

• Cal Poly righthander Garrett Olson struck out a season-high 12 Fresno State batters Friday in a 5-3 win. He allowed three earned runs on four hits and three walks over eight innings. He didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning and all three runs scored on a home run by freshman third baseman Beau Mills in the eighth. Cal Poly improved to 7-0 when Olson starts.

• Washington sophomore righthander Tim Lincecum held UC Santa Barbara to one hit over six innings Saturday, striking out 11 while walking six. Lincecum threw a seven-inning one-hitter last week against Texas A&M and has allowed three hits in his last 13 innings. Washington tied a school record with six home runs in a 17-4 win Sunday. It had five homers in its first 14 games prior to the power surge, which pushed the Huskies over .500 for the first time at 8-7.

• Missouri sophomore Max Scherzer struck out a career-high 13 batters in six innings Friday against Eastern Michigan. He allowed four hits and four walks but no runs in a 7-1 win.

• UC Irvine junior righthander Chris Nicoll punched out a career-best 13 Dallas Baptist hitters and allowed three hits in nine innings, but didn't factor in the decision as Stuart Sutherland held the Anteaters scoreless for nine innings. Irvine scratched across a run in the 10th for a 1-0 win.

• Pacific senior Josh Schmidt set the school's career saves record (12) with two in a doubleheader sweep against San Francisco.

• Temple senior shortstop Jason Connor started a triple play and went 3-for-4 at the plate Monday against Boston College, but the Owls still lost 9-4. Connor caught a line drive in the third inning, stepped on second base to catch a runner who hadn't tagged up and then threw to first to complete the trick.

• Kent State also turned a triple play (when Phil Bojc caught a popped up bunt and doubled off two baserunners) and scored eight times in the eighth inning but still lost 15-11 to Coastal Carolina.

• Kansas State set or tied four offensive records in a 30-4 win against St. Francis. The Wildcats tied records for runs and hits (26) in a game and set new marks for doubles (10) and margin of victory (26). KSU's 61 runs in a three-game series also set a record.

GREENVILLE, N.C.—Keith LeClair watched from his wheelchair Friday as his children J.D. and Audrey threw out the first pitches at East Carolina’s new park, Clark-LeClair Stadium. The ECU-record 4,410 fans, several of whom were wearing LECLAIR 23 jerseys, stood, clapped and cheered for the program’s former coach, who stepped down following the 2002 season to continue his battle with ALS.

“If you’ve got a heart inside your chest, that moment kind of got to you,” said East Carolina coach Randy Mazey, who succeeded LeClair in 2003 and led the Pirates to a school-record 51 wins in 2004.

The poignant moment opened the second annual Keith LeClair Classic, a six-team tournament that christened the $10 million park with nine games in three days. Huge crowds filled the stands each day, with 5,023 fans for the Arizona State-East Carolina game Saturday night and 4,234 more on Sunday.

“It is a recognition of what kinds of things have been going on here over the last several years,” said Terry Holland, East Carolina’s athletics director. “They built a nice program, the players and the coaches, and it’s a nice reward for them.”

LeClair watched East Carolina’s games from a side room in the new press box, where each member of the Arizona State team and coaching staff introduced himself to LeClair and presented him with a signed jersey.

“I thought it would be a great experience for our kids to see the reality of things,” Arizona State coach Pat Murphy said. “Keith was an unbelievable coach that, in my mind, should go down in college baseball as a tremendous person with a tremendous career. Everybody that knows him knows what a tremendous guy he was, and I’m fortunate to have met him.

“I just told him he’s been a great example for all of us, to see the way he battled this disease. No wonder his teams played so hard—it’s all about the example he set for them. I told him it was truly an honor to play in his stadium, and I’d pray for him and remember him forever.”

In 1998, LeClair left his alma mater, Western Carolina, and took over a Pirates program that had not reached the NCAA tournament in four years. He led East Carolina to regionals in his second season, and the team hasn’t missed the postseason since, advancing to super-regionals in 2001 and 2004.

Mazey called the stadium, which seats 3,000 and can hold more on the raised berm behind the outfield, a key addition to a program seeking its first College World Series appearance. The park was still under construction in November when Mazey offered recruits a tour, but he said it still helped East Carolina sign its best class in years.

“This is in the top five or 10 nationally in facilities,” Mazey said. “If you look back at college baseball, programs that have built a facility like this have jumped to another level. Our only goal in this program is to get to Omaha, and this is the last piece. We’ve got no more excuses. It’s time to put up or shut up.”

The Pirates worked toward that end over the weekend. They scored a run in the bottom of the eighth to beat Michigan 2-1 on Friday, which also featured a 4-3 Georgia victory against Ohio State and a 4-3 Arizona State win against North Carolina in 11 innings.

“If you’re a baseball enthusiast and like old-time baseball, that’s what you saw today, pitching and defense,” said Mazey, whose team also beat Georgia 7-1 and lost 10-3 to Arizona State.

The Big 10’s Big Weekend

The tournament also served notice that the Big 10 schools came prepared to do more than just be glad to be able to play outside in early March.

"I told our guys, ‘Don't take a back seat,’" Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. "That was our motto for the weekend."

Maloney's Wolverines listened, as did conference rival Ohio State. Each performed as well as any team in the event, defeating North Carolina, which entered the tournament ranked No. 6. Michigan also topped Georgia, previously the nation's No. 7 team.

"It's refreshing for guys like (Ohio State coach) Bob (Todd) and I to have success against great programs that have earned national recognition," Maloney said. "We feel like we have pretty good teams, too."

Senior center fielder Matt Butler proved the hero for Michigan. He delivered a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday to beat Georgia 6-4 and an RBI single Sunday to beat North Carolina 1-0.

Butler took a congratulatory jog around Clark-LeClair Stadium, delivering high-fives to some of the East Carolina fans hanging out behind the outfield fence. They were chanting his name after cheering for the underdog against in-state rival North Carolina. (Arizona State's Colin Curtis took a "LeClair Leap" into the left-field wall to thank fans Friday after scoring the winning run against North Carolina.)

The Michigan players mobbed Butler at the plate following Saturday's heroics as if he just had helped the team win a conference title.

The victory was that significant for Michigan. It helped the Wolverines (5-2) finish their season-opening road trip with a winning record for the first time since the 1997 team started 8-4.

The Wolverines opened the tournament with a 2-1 loss to East Carolina, which scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning. They also won 4-1 at Florida Atlantic, a 9-4 team, to open the week for the school's first 3-0 start since 1995. A 17-12 loss Tuesday to St. John's broke the winning streak.

Pitching was a key factor in Michigan's success. Subtracting the nine earned runs over nine innings against St. John's, the Wolverines staff has posted a 2.55 ERA in the six games started by its weekend rotation of senior righthanders Michael Penn (1-1, 2.84) and Jim Brauer (1-0, 2.84) and junior righty Derek Feldkamp (1-0, 0.82). Fourteen pitchers have logged innings through seven games after it took 60 games for that many arms to see action a year ago.

"I said prior to the season that this is the most pitching depth of any staff I've ever coached, and I had some pretty good pitching staffs," said Maloney, who coached 2002 first-round picks Brian Bullington and Luke Hagerty at Ball State. "Those guys went out and proven that this weekend."

Ohio State earned a win against North Carolina and ace Daniel Bard by scoring twice in the first inning and holding on for a 2-1 win. The Buckeyes also came close Friday and Sunday, ending the 4-3 loss to Georgia with the tying run on base and falling to Arizona State 3-0.

The win came in the fourth game of the year for Ohio State, while the Tar Heels had played 10 already. Arizona State left the event with 21 games played, putting it more than a third of the way through its schedule.

“This is only the fourth time we’ve been outside since the fall, and all four have been games,” Ohio State coach Bob Todd said after Saturday’s win. “Obviously, I’m pleased with the way we played. Northern clubs are still behind a little bit. We’re not sure who our middle relief guys are. We don’t know who our definitive closer is going to be. And, we’ve started two totally different lineups in two games.”

No matter how early it is or how unsettled things might be for the Big 10 teams, the victories should go a long way for the league come tournament selection time.

“In RPI, it’s ‘who’d they beat in the top 25?’ ” said Todd, a former member of the Division I baseball committee. “It’s a pretty big deal for us and Michigan to do this right out of the gym.”

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